Vanitas, #3, ed. Vincent Katz (New York, 2008)

by Jack Kimball

Monday, September 01, 2008

Vanitas 3
Popular Song
Vincent Katz, Editor

Looks will kill. Ask Brian De Palma, Luis Buñuel, John Sayles, Claude Chabrol, filmic murderers who high-style it with the unsavory to waste blandness with a light touch and mean more. It's almost the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and there haven't been a whole lot of Chabrols, Buñuels, Sayleses, or De Palmas among poets. Not many have or get time to live and hang with painters, media artists, and conceptualists, so very little of the swelling innovation in graphic arts, much less its potential synergy for poetry, rubs off firsthand to enforce among poets distinctive methods and manners of looking and being seen. Vincent Katz is clearly an exception.

Growing up in a family of accomplished, generous, highly respected artists who have long supported their peers, Vincent comes to his wide-ranging esthetics naturally, expressing a poet's and editor's style as unforced and uninflected as a mother tongue. His editing for Vanitas, now up to its third issue, appears annually. As editor Vincent shows the mannered results of a seemingly effortless year of collecting work that comes to his attention directly, not secondhand, from writers and artists of older and younger generations. He fans controversy by inviting poets to mix it up writing on less familiar topics than literature, for example, and often, like a curator, he turns over big spaces to artists so they can display graphics as well as work from their journals and notes. Issue 3, subtitled Popular Song, yields a slew of poets taking on the Beatles and other musical themes; a poem by pop artist Jim Dine along with his writing about the rock scene in London of the 1960s; cover, writing, and a good number of different art pieces by photographer and sign-maker Jack Pierson. Sign-making, rock, and poetry. It's a luxuriant, sly merging of ideas, a light subvening of hardcore theoretical divisions, something we've come to expect from Vincent. (In Issue 2 he put together poems and art from 'far out west' alongside pieces implicated with poli-science or 'anarchisms,' as he put it.)

Impeccable style, unbesmirched taste, these uppercase ideals need more than good looks. Everything has to come together to inhabit what we used to call a state of grace. It's perhaps more temporal zone today than state, a point of irradiation in which elements of surprise and thunderous joy mount. You can find irradiation of this sort throughout Issue 3. I'll highlight two in closing. First is a theme-meshing piece "Great Clubs I Have Danced At" by Darinka Novitovic Chase, artist / hostess of a downtown demimonde. This is autobiographical evocation of glamorous clubbing through the ages, short notes on Area, The Pyramid, Club Metro, and this place: "7th grade, in the girls bathroom teasing my hair, the transistor radio we snuck into school propped up on the mirror ledge. Aretha sings 'I Say A Little Prayer...'" Second, I'm registering libertarian over the abbreviated funkiness of "Fireflies," a poem by conceptual artist Alix Lambert. I finish here with all six of her remarkably bliss-strewn lines.

I can't stop thinking about tying fireflies into my hair.
One firefly for each strand of hair.
A blinking halo of tiny yellow lights
that lifts me right off the ground,
all the way to another planet,
where I would battle aliens.